Ecclesiastes 8

It’s the same ideas again largely, and more in a jumble than other chapters. Elsewhere he talks about his mind being restless, but here I feel I experience that restlessness. Maybe he wrote this one in the middle of the night… He mentions people getting no sleep.

He talks about civil obedience, a bit Paul-like per Romans 13, including the criminal justice system. He notes there are both holy and pragmatic reasons to submit to the social order. But he also comments on how easily it can go wrong.

He turns the evocative “time for this, time for that” into ghastly sort of puppet show / nightmare life, with God pulling the strings. We don’t know the plot of our story and we don’t have choices. It may be time to live miserably under an oppressive ruler. It may be party time.

His advice is essentially, if it’s party time, enjoy it a lot. If it’s not party time, maybe it will be again, but there’s nothing you can do and don’t even try to understand it because it won’t make any sense.

How about I try to note the bits that speak to me.

I loved the opening verse about wisdom brightening and softening the hard appearance of a person’s face. One of life’s most affirming things is seeing kindness, comprehension and gentleness in a face.

We watched a documentary on ABC yesterday about disabled people getting employment, and I saw that wisdom light up the face of a wonderfully driven and focused downs syndrome woman who they tracked through getting a TAFE certificate and a job as a carer at an aged care facility. When she did her trial time with the residents, she was so switched on, and they responded so warmly, it was beautiful.

I was struck by the wisdom of the verse: “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people‚Äôs hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong“.

It reminded me of the angst and opportunism that Donald Trump’s brazen shamelessness over lying, being dishonorable etc has caused. It’s almost worse for the souls of those, such as many evangelical Christians, who struck an ungodly bargain with him to advance their agenda, than it is for those he outright marginalises and bullies. But the fact that he gets rewarded for being so indecent has shaken many people’s faith in justice, and emboldened many others.

The world is increasingly riven by violence been ‘Christians’ and ‘Muslims’. Blessed are the peacemakers, DJT!

And this is notable: “I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” Simple food and drink always tastes good, but especially so when times are hard. There is a reason all churches involve themselves in simply handing out food and drink.

Lord in this tumultuous world, help me cling into the good things, give them time, and see you brightening and softening them, giving me hope in the eternal value of goodness.

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Psalm 85

God and people, up and down. God above, people below.

The first half talks to God, remembering blessings past and asking for restoration again. Specifically for God’s anger to pass, for him to show his unfailing love, revive and save the people.

It was clearly written during a time of distress.

Second half talks about our part in it. The author promises to listen to God, to fear him and not be foolish.

Then you have these lovely pictures of God’s grace and our response kissing. Godly people being the meeting place of God’s righteousness and the faithful responses on earth.

It may have been a prayer for an actual drought, or a metaphor, but you have God’s blessing coming down and the fruitfulness of the fields reaching up.

The sense of mutuality, of my part to play, is a great way to launch into a new week. I’ll give it my all!

Since we’re doing so much music of late, here chance the rapper’s blessings song, which this psalm bought to mind.

Job 24

Oh no, bad night’s sleep, very difficult chapter. Eyes keep closing.

Job seems to argue that justice should be seen to be done as well as be done.

This is possibly a way of reconciling his belief in God and the arguments of his friends.

He’s sort of saying it all comes down to timing. If God could relieve the suffering of the vulnerable during their lives, and bring about the downfall of the wicked exploiters by means other than the termination of their years on earth, then he would accept the words of his friends.

The argument has been heading this direction for a few chapters. It’s like they are reaching a consensus on God’s cosmic and eternal justice. Job’s refusal to deny God includes an underlying belief in his justice.

But he doesn’t understand why he can’t be seen to be just. Try as they might, the others can’t spin the experience of life here on earth as reflecting God’s justice, particularly to one who has lost everything to a series of misfortunes as job has.

Between Christians today, the struggle continues between those who put their hope in heaven after we die, and those who emphasise ‘thy will be done on earth’.

Christianity almost has too many ideas. It almost works as a gospel of earthly ethics, with no supernatural, afterlife element needed. And it almost works completely as a system of eternal reward, with the corporeal virtually disposable except as an opportunity to hear and accept the word about God’s eternal plan.

The most unsettling teaching I’ve heard in recent years was from N T Wright, partly because as an Anglican Bishop respected by serious types in my circles, I was conditioned to exist he was ‘safe’and mainstream and not likely to be a whacky heretic.

But he teaches we wont go to heaven, heaven will be a fixed up version of where we are now, earth. Literally, I think. For example, his book on the environment is called ‘God is coming, plant a tree! That idea has never crossed my mind. We’re staying here? This is it?

Whether metaphorical or not, thinking of it that way gives a whole extra impetus to that line I’ve said all my life ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

Eternity is inherently a present tense and past as well as a future concept. But so often we talk about it as something confined to the future.

However, as they say, ‘we should start as we mean to carry on.’ Slavery can console itself with visions of bands of angels coming to carry them home, but also should be abolished. Both.

So in my job interview yesterday when I said I got it, this Salvos idea of holistic mission, practical and spiritual Christianity, it wasn’t just so they’d give me a job!

Perhaps it’s time for all of Job’s friends to stop talking. I mean come on guys 24 chapters, what is this, a theological college?

2 Chronicles 31

I suppose it was inevitable that the writer of chronicles would go bananas for a whole chapter about the obedience of king Hezekiah, expressed in the specifics of how he organised the temple. That’s why he picked up his pen.

The system really is a concrete expression of the commandment to love the Lord with all your heart. The chapter hangs off the word “wholeheartedly” in the last verse, describing Hezekiah’s obedience.

I always panic a little at the amount of effort and resources the system requires – I called it clunky a few chapters ago.

But we’re also called to put God #1, I should examine how wholehearted I am.

I like here how the sheer abundance of it is a bit chaotic. The tithing, enthusiastically obeyed, quickly produces great heaps of produce, and you sense they are playing catch-up organising storehouses and searching out the dispersed and forgotten members of the priest tribe to distribute it to.

A whole workforce is suddenly released from the fields to full time service of God. The childhoods of children as young as three are transformed, becoming focused on preparing to take on a priestly role.

The Levites tribe system of inherited full time ministry, by blood not calling, has always niggled at me. It’s strange to us now. It’s a little, in my mind, like arranged vs. love marriages. I wonder if the results are actually much different.

And I suppose for the deeper meaning of ‘priest’, descendants of Aaron, people able to come into God’s presence, it’s very appropriate. All believers are inheritors of their priesthood now.

I liked the detail that this is about the first time the people themselves destroy the poles and worship places of the other Gods, not just by order of the king. The experience of the communal Passover feast and teaching in the last chapter has won the people back to Jehovah. It’s a description of revival.

2 Chronicles 12

Solomon’s son king Rehoboam tries out not believing in God.

It is punished in literal terms, Egypt attacks and carries off most of Solomon’s treasure like his gold shields. It is punishment and lesson. The prophet comes and interprets the theological meaning.

Rehoboam repents before Jerusalem is taken, which saves the city. But God allows the Egyptian king to occupy them in some way, to teach them what the kingship of others is like.

So the treasure goes, and Rehoboam needs protection just to walk the streets.

The story of Israel’s Kings is quite simply the story of kingship in many ways. It applies to the choices we make as to who is king of our life.

Almost no one consistently surrenders their crown to God. Why do we find obedience to God so hard?

I also ask myself, reading this in a week where another massive report of church abuse of children has been released, ‘is the church’s decline a literal punishment for all is sexual sin?’

I mean, it’s a consequence of loss of trust even without divine intervention. So it’s a question of the theological overlay we place on events.

I suppose we’re constantly tempted to think ‘shit happens’, there is not a God who claims kingship of your life.

1 Chronicles 28

David was so much more involved with the temple than I ever imagined. Solomon built it, but David micro managed about every detail before he died.

He repeats, as he hands over the final instructions, that he can’t build it because he’s a soldier that shed too much blood.

He did. But God could forgive him that, I wonder if God is also leading the old man not into temptation.

The census debacle a couple of chapters ago showed David’s very human desire to be proud of his reign, to want to leave a legacy to what he achieved as Israel’s greatest king, bringing together their greatest period.

Maybe he could not have built the temple without falling into that sin, an old man’s sin.

It’s so Moses-like, leading God’s people to the edge of closure, but not being the one to claim it.

Moses’ sin, such as it was, was pretending to be God’s voice. He berated the people out of his own frustration, when God had not asked him to. Both needed to fight pomposity.

As I head towards late middle age, if not old age, it’s not what I expected to see in the passage. I have achieved remarkably little on earth, so I would have thought I was safe from pomposity.

But this blog is driven by a sense of legacy, it’s in there, in my motives. And my plan to write a song for every book, definitely. Though it’s also my identity and my pleasure in who I’ve been created to be. David was a song writer, and God didn’t seem to put any limits on that.

Intriguingly though… I wonder if he wrote crush/love songs about Bathsheba? Only the regret song, Psalm 51 made the Bible cut. But I digress.

I also have a problem with timidity, and the verse that rang out to me in the spirit was when David said to his son Solomon “Be confident and determined. Start the work and don’t let anything stop you.

I also let everything stop me. I seriously do.

So is God saying: achieve lots, and don’t achieve lots?

Perhaps the resolution of the conflict lies in the centre phrase, which I hadn’t noted till now “start the work”. Not “make sure you finish it” that is not the point.

Collaboration is a word bursting with godly potential. It’s how dreams become a journey, which is what they perhaps need to do to lead us not into temptation. In the process, they break a bit, get tarnished, they morph, perhaps you never actually reach them.

Sounding very “it’s a wonderful life”.

Do what God needs to be done. Live in God’s present, respond to it. That is closer to eternity than devoting our energy to planning our earthly memorial. As Jesus put it “store up for yourself treasure in heaven”.

So there is my dual message: be bold, seize the promptings of the spirit in the present, but don’t plan a self aggrandising future. Do and don’t do.

My job insecurity is eating me up a bit this week.

I offer that, my present, and my legacy on the altar God says is within the temple of my body, built upon the ruins of David and Solomon’s earthly monument of stone and cedar.

Woah!

1 Chronicles 12

King Saul made David an enemy of Israel, and David refused to fight back. This is the story of how he got support to claim the throne.

Many soldiers joined him, even some who went possibly to spy on him ended up joining him. The story is told of the man who became commander of the elite ’30’, having a prophetic utterance, recognising God is on David’s side.

The structure of the narrative makes it clear he is a unifier: it goes through all the tribes, listing his support, starting with Benjamin, Saul’s tribe.

The momentum builds until he has a huge army, the people gather to him, and the is spontaneous feasting and joy, he’s that kind of guy in that kind of moment.

David followed God, and God’s plan unfolded around him.

I have a small sense of that at work, I get panicky if I try to think of the big picture, but I clearly know what would be the right thing to do moment to moment. David surrendered to God the big picture.

Jeremiah 35

An example of obedient Israelites.

Jeremiah shows Israel very publicly in the temple the example of the rechabites.

They are a sect within Israel, similar to hippies or Amish people, they style their life as the Israelites in the wilderness, living in tents.

They have a vow of abstinence, which Jeremiah demonstrates by placing wine before them in the temple and inviting them to drink. The high profile location and Jeremiah’s status as a prophet would have added to the pressure on them, but they decline.

He praises their obedience, and promises they will always”have a man to stand before God”, which I had to look up. It’s a reward particularly relevant to obedience, of always being able to serve God.

They shame the disobedience of the rest of Israel.

I compare them in some ways also to the salvation army who I work for. A little quaint, sticking to a vow of temperance.

It’s a good example of God attitude to a sect or a denomination. He respects the obedience. It’s not a question of whether their rules a more “right” than the rest, is the passion in their hearts to subject themselves to the discipline.

And I must face that I have a bit of a problem with alcohol.

Much to think about, speaking to me today.

Jeremiah 14

This chapter is a dialogue of struggle between Jeremiah and God. They are talking about Israel, but to each other.

Jeremiah’s bleak message for the people rips him apart. His epic struggle to obey God is a key theme of the book, and an ironic one.

His love for the people makes it so painful for him to obey God and prophesy doom and gloom for them. Yet that obedience also contrasts so extremely with their disobedience that it helps make the case for the message.

God and Jeremiah are a bit like parents of a wayward child. They are so frustrated that they can’t reach the child, they start to turn on each other.

Here Jeremiah paints to God a vivid picture of how a series of droughts are affecting not just his people but his creatures and creation. There is a strong emotional plea, manipulation even, in it.

He doesn’t promise their repentance as such, he can’t, but he goads God to act because of his character. “Are you a stranger?” he asks, “a visitor, a confused old man? Aren’t you supposed to be a mighty warrior who loves his people?” It’s quite a way to speak to God!

“Nup, not happening” God essentially replies in quite blunt terms. “And stop praying for them.”

Jeremiah tries a different tack, arguing they have been misled by false prophets. He’s implying that it’s not their fault.

God promises the false prophets and the people will perish, and gives Jeremiah a true word to take to them, of them shattered; dead and unburied in the fields of battle, starving and sick in the cities.

Despite God’s prohibition, Jeremiah prays beautifully again for them to close the chapter.

We have a message for our world, the western part of which is experimenting with all sorts of affront to God. That includes some of the “chosen”, evangelical Christians, in my view. We can pray for them all we like, but at some point God wants us to act.

Jeremiah 13

Good for nothing.

God gets Jeremiah to act out a bit of theatre, putting on a noble priestly garment, a sash, which if he wore typical prophet attire would have apparently looked like wearing a cummerbund and a hessian sack. Quite a sight.

He went to the Euphrates, a long way, to the place the invasion would come from, and buried the sash.

Then he traveled back after a few months and dig it up. It was ruined, useless.

In my new job producing materials for churches, I find encouragement from God’s use of illustrative material. But the message is devastating.

They are good for nothing. From the chosen people to useless.

Comparisons go on to be drawn to drunks, ignorant and stupid. And the public humiliation of prostitutes.

All you can do is put it out there. You can’t force people to repent, Jeremiah should convince us of that.

But it’s also a good time to look at the hardness in my own heart. I’ve been struggling in a practical level with lollies and alcohol. I don’t have a huge problem, but do have a bit more of both than is good for me. How hard is self discipline!